Edinburgh were probably quite happy with underdog status despite going into the second leg of the cup a game ahead, which was possibly why their opening kick off could be charitably described as hopeless. With a makeshift front row, they’d probably hoped to hold off from a first scrum longer than 45 seconds too.
They survived, but it wasn’t long before Glasgow were winning penalties in that particular set piece. The first points came for a breakdown penalty, with Hamish Watson getting on the wrong side of referee Mike Adamson and Finn Russell kicking the penalty.
Glasgow had far more patience with ball in hand than they had last weekend and were using their big carriers well, but it was Edinburgh who had the first proper chance. Once again superb, Stuart McInally streaked through the Warriors defensive line after a nice pop pass from Sam Hidalgo-Clyne but he knocked it on in the tackle before he could deliver to either of the supporting runners.
Glasgow also had half chances, but couldn’t escape the paws of Edinburgh’s defence to exploit them fully. Fraser Brown and James Johnstone both left the pitch just before half time after a clash of heads which put paid to a promising tussle with McInally. The home side had the edge in terms of discipline and the scrum, but everywhere else Edinburgh were edging ahead in a cagey first half hour that fizzled but never really burst aflame.
If you’ll forgive the metaphor, it was a different sort of fire that ended the half in bizarre fashion as a (false) fire alarm in Scotstoun’s North Stand caused a full-scale evacuation of the whole stadium, players, TV crews: the lot.
After some time standing in the cold, the coaches agreed to end the half at the 38 minute mark when the alarm had sounded and play resumed after a well extended half time break.
Half-time: Glasgow 3-0 Edinburgh
As in the first half, Finn Russell took the first points with a penalty to increase Glasgow’s lead. With most of the crowd returned to the stands the atmosphere was still slightly muted – standing outside in the cold will do that to any buzz you might have built up pre-match – and some entertaining rugby was badly needed.
A superb kick chase by Matt Smith to marshal the impressive Jaco Van Der Walt got the Warrior Nation chanting and then a great break from Kinghorn with an offload to Watson got the away fans buzzing. It still was missing that last pass going to hand, perhaps due to defensive pressure caused by smothering effort from both sides.
On the breakdown, Adamson was more on Glasgow’s wavelength than Edinburgh’s and Jamie Ritchie gave away one that Russell put deep into the corner. A maul and a try would be a formality for Jonny Gray and the pack you thought, but Gilchrist and Toolis did great technical work to defend it and win the turnover. Gray is a tireless workhorse, but his best partner in the second row for Scotland is likely to be one of those technicians who add something a little different.
Unlike last week’s clash, despite the greater physicality, there wasn’t as much edge and it was 50 minutes before there was even a hint of handbags. But otherwise it was similar to last week, in that Edinburgh refused to be killed off going into the closing stages of the game. Aside from the ever dependable McInally, “Bill” Mata was tireless for the men in red and Hamish Watson relished the chance he was denied last weekend.
Still, they kept giving away penalties in the tackle area which would have infuriated Richard Cockerill in one way or the other, and Russell – dead-eye with the boot once again – kicked his third penalty to make the score a comfortable 9-0.
Despite never really convincing at the close in power game, it was probably enough of a cushion eked out for Glasgow to start throwing it about when George Horne was introduced with twenty minutes to play. The two Matts, Fagerson and Smith, were solid as a back row pair in Fagerson’s first game back from injury. A big talent aged 19 – Mrs Fagerson will be proud.
They duly started taking quick lineouts and throwing offloads – back to Plan A – but as in previous weeks it wasn’t effective enough to overshadow Edinburgh. Their backline led by Jaco van der Walt and Blair Kinghorn went about their business quietly and effectively – but just like Glasgow’s more starry names they weren’t quite able to get round the opposition defence.
Russell kicked one last penalty with 6 minutes to play to put the result beyond doubt.
Although there were a few more of those fluffed half-chances by both sides – including a huge forward pass to Niko from Finn Russell that should have gone to Huw Jones just outside him – the game ended in typically odd fashion with a Lee Jones try in the corner (unconverted) then a mass scuffle when Fraser McKenzie objected to Chris Fusaro celebrating the scrum shove that led to it.
An odd end to the year, but unlike most of this game: it’s been a good one.
Referee: Mike Adamson (SRU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Finn Russell deserves plaudits for his excellent goal-kicking and Zander Fagerson put in a big shift for Glasgow but once again Stuart McInally was the standout player on the park for either side. Superb in the loose, tackled to a standstill and mostly excellent at the lineout. Alex Dunbar, Matt Fagerson, Jamie Ritchie and the Edinburgh second row all played well.